Friday, 11 June 2010

Telling and Showing

Show don't tell is the creative writing tutor's mantra. Here are three ways you might be telling, and how you'd change it to showing.

1. This was Susannah's way of pretending nothing was happening. Or This was Susannah's first time at the zoo.
This was... It's a very distanced voice, keeping us at arms length from Susannah and how she feels. What about instead...
Susannah stared into middle distance, ignoring what was going on in the seat next door. Or...Wow. So here she was at last, at the zoo. Jeez, it stunk! She'd never imagined that.

2. Telling emotions. She was nervous, she was happy, she was frightened, she was overwhelmed. I've got a CW book somewhere that suggests hunting down every 'was' just to check it's not telling about an emotion, but that might be going a bit too far. Other words to watch out for as 'telling' indicators include seemed/seems and feeling/felt/feels etc. Instead, think how you could show that emotion, perhaps through speech, perhaps through actions, perhaps through physical reactions.
Her eyes darted about trying to locate the quietest, most out of the way place at the party, but bodies pressed in all around her.

3. Description that's not in the character's viewpoint, or that doesn't show their attitude.
Spike considered the scene, weighing the options in his mind as if his brain was a fulcrum for scales that could fall either way. Or...
Which was best? Left or right? Spike hesitated. Shit. He had to get this right, but which was best?

Of course, sometimes it's better to tell, and not show, but that's for another post.

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